NHL’s 3-on-3 OT cutting down on shootouts as league hoped
The NHL has taken two skaters off the ice during overtimes this season, hoping 3-on-3 hockey will cut down on shootouts.
It has worked.
Twenty-nine of the 42 games that have lasted longer than three periods have been decided in overtime entering play Monday, according to STATS, extending just 31 percent of those games to a shootout. Over the previous 10 seasons, at least 50 percent of games that went to overtime were decided by a shootout and as much as 61.1 percent were decided by the shooter-on-goaltender duels, according to STATS.
“I was a big supporter of the rule change after seeing it in the American (Hockey) League,” Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said during the first intermission of his team’s 4-1 victory at Detroit on Sunday. “It has served its purpose of eliminating a lot of shootouts, and it has been really exciting for the fans.”
For goalies, not so much.
The 3-on-3 hockey creates a lot of scoring chances and stress for hung-out-to-dry goalies, who are more likely to face odd-man rushes with out-of-position teammates trying to cover a lot of ice.
“It’s just sort of the way the game is evolving,” Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson said. “Soon, it’ll be 2-on-1, 1-on-1 and then sort of having goalies going one on the other.”
Well, the league probably won’t go that far. But it has experimented successfully with ways to avoid ties without letting what is basically a skills competition decide which team gets a precious extra point in the closely contested standings.
No one seems to miss seeing so many shootouts, either. Coaches and players are thankful to be involved in them less thanks to 3-on-3 hockey.
“I think it’s a much better way to solve the two points,” New York Islanders center John Tavares said.
Teams began a trial-and-error phase with the format during the preseason, when select games were designated to finish with the 3-on-3 overtime even if they weren’t tied after regulation.
During the regular season, though, teams don’t seem to be spending a lot of time working on it during practices and morning skates.
Tavares said the Islanders haven’t worked on 3-on-3 hockey on their own since the preseason.
“Just like 4 on 4, you don’t practice it a whole lot,” Tavares said. “The more you go through it, the more comfortable you’ll get.”
Most teams appear to be using two forwards and one defenseman, though some have tried to put different combinations on the ice, using their best skaters who can also handle the puck well.
“I’ve seen a little bit of everything,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said. “I’ve seen one forward, two ‘D’ and three forwards.”
And if a team has a goalie able to control the puck and advance it up the ice, that’s a big bonus.
“It basically gives teams an extra skater,” former NHL goalie Chris Osgood said. “That can give some teams a huge advantage. Of course, that can backfire, too, if a goalie mishandles a puck. I love the new format because it is getting rid of a lot of shootouts, which are too gimmicky. If I was still a goalie in the league, though, I’m not sure I would like it.”
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, and freelance writers Denis P. Gorman, Lary Bump and Timothy Cronin contributed to this report.